Google has confirmed that is has blocked Huawei from updating some parts of its Android software used on Huawei phones. But why? Business Editor, Will Goodbody, has the answers.
Why has Google taken this action?
Last week the US announced that it was banning American firms from selling components to Huawei, and barred foreign-made telecoms equipment that it considers poses an unacceptable risk - with the Chinese company the clear target. The move was a direct response to what the US perceives as an unacceptable risk posed by the use of Huawei equipment in telecom networks, particularly the fifth generation mobile or 5G ones that are being built around the world at the moment. The US thinks that the Chinese government could use its position to access the equipment and spy on organisations and governments around the world – something both Huawei and China deny. Google has worked through the implications for it, and has decided it needs to suspend certain access that Huawei has to its mobile operating system services.
What does this mean in practice?
Google’s Android mobile operating system is used by over 80% of smartphones in the world, including those made by Huawei. What Google looks set to do because of the ban is restrict Huawei’s access to future updates to Android. This would mean that Huawei would only be able to load the openly available or open source version of Android to its phones. This is very much a stripped down version of the operating system and means that future Huawei devices may not be able to access very popular apps, like Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube, the Google Play Store and more. So if you are thinking about buying a Huawei phone in the future, this may be a consideration.
I already have a Huawei phone, is this bad news for me?
Right now, the answer is that it isn’t completely clear. Google and Huawei both say that those that have existing Huawei devices and those in stock around the world will continue to be able use Android and the Google suite of apps in a way they already do for the moment at least. But the full implications of the US decision are still being considered by Google, which may mean that in the future, existing owners of Huawei handsets may see their access to services, like updates, curtailed.
What is Huawei going to do?
The issue has serious implications for Huawei, which sold over 200 million smartphones last year and is now the world’s second largest smartphone manufacturer, behind only Samsung. However, Huawei has reportedly been working on a contingency for just such an eventuality and has been developing its own mobile operating system and apps. So it seems likely, unless the issue is resolved, that future releases of Huawei smartphones could run on this new operating system. This might be ok in China, where Google services aren’t widely used. But in the US and Europe, where Google apps are relied upon by many, the absence of these services could prove a big turn off. All you have to do for an example is to look at what happened when Microsoft built its own Windows Mobile operating system, which never took off.
Will other tech and telecoms firms be doing the same thing?
In theory, yes. It is only a couple of days since the US announced these measures and it is taking time for the ramifications to filter down through other US tech and telecom firms around the globe. But unless resolved soon, the issue is likely to lead to other tech and telecom firms having to pull their products and services from Huawei, in a way that could prove equally disruptive. Already some US chipmakers have stopped supplying Huawei, hitting the hardware of its phones also. The only ray of light for the company is that on Friday the US Commerce Department said it was considering scaling back restrictions on Huawei to "prevent the interruption of existing network operations and equipment".
Is this all about security?
The US says it is. But it is hard not to see it as connected to the ongoing trade row between the US and China, which is escalating by the day. Both sides have been negotiating a trade deal, but so far agreement has not been forthcoming. The US has been trying to pressurise China in a number of ways to get the deal over the line. Analysts see it as very likely that the Huawei debacles is just another way of doing that. So in theory, if the trade deal does get agreed in the near term, then the Huawei security issue could start to fade away into the background.